Tourism to return to pre-Covid levels this year

Tourism numbers in the Hebrides will return to near 2019 levels this year, if Covid restrictions continue to ease, according to industry chief Rob MacKinnon.
Rob Mackinnon is backing tourists to return to the isles.Rob Mackinnon is backing tourists to return to the isles.
Rob Mackinnon is backing tourists to return to the isles.

Mr MacKinnon, Chief Executive of Outer Hebrides Tourism – the public-private body which promotes the islands’ tourism – says that while visitor numbers for the previous two years have been significantly below those of Pre-pandemic, he believed this year things will finally inch towards normality.

“Demand is strong when it is allowed to come,” he said. “The problem for the last two years has been the lockdowns and we have been sitting at around 40 or 50 percent of our usual numbers. 2020 was about a third of our usual total and last year was about half.

“There has been a lot of coverage with the likes of Joanna Lumley, Top Gear and Romesh Ranganathan having visited so there has been a huge amount of coverage and people do want to come to rural destinations. We don’t have much overseas demand and 80 percent of our business is domestic and many of them are regular visitors to the islands.”

He continued: “The numbers might not make it all the way back this year as people are still a little bit wary but yes I think it should get almost there. We should be back towards 2019 levels I think. What people see is the number of visitors in any one week but the whole thing is about extending the time.

"The isles are pretty full in July and August so its very hard to get any more people to visit in those months but either end of the season, March and April or September and October, really determine how the season goes.

“Demand held up once it got going last year and it carried on later into the year so I am hoping it does actually recover.”

Mr Mackinnon believes the three main challenges facing growing the tourist sector in the Hebrides are staff shortages, pressure on island infrastructure and the ongoing issues with ferries.

He continued: “Without sorting out the ferries we can’t grow. There is an ongoing battle between local residents and tourists for the ferry space which isn’t good for anybody. We saw that with the limited capacity last year and it was a struggle. There is little scope to grow the market further until the ferry issues are resolved.”